Richard C. Hottelet dies at 97; last of CBS News’ ‘Murrow Boys’

Richard C. Hottelet, a former longtime CBS News correspondent who was the last living member of the “Murrow Boys,” the elite group of reporters who covered World War II for CBS under the legendary Edward R. Murrow, has died. He was 97.

Hottelet died in his sleep early Wednesday at his home in Wilton, Conn., CBS publicist Kevin Tedesco said.

During his 41 years with CBS News on radio and television, Hottelet also served as a foreign correspondent based in Bonn, Germany; reported domestic news on elections and civil rights; and anchored his own weekend morning TV news program from 1957 to 1961.


And for 25 years, beginning in 1960 and ending when he retired from CBS News in 1985, he was the U.N. correspondent.

But it was his status as one of the “Murrow Boys,” CBS’ pioneering broadcast news team that provided eyewitness accounts of the unfolding events of World War II, for which Hottelet will be best remembered.

At 26, he already was a seasoned war correspondent in Europe when he was hired by Murrow, CBS’ London-based European bureau chief, in January 1944.

As a young reporter based in Berlin for United Press, Hottelet had covered Germany’s occupation of the Sudetenland in 1938 and continued on through the invasions of Poland, France and Belgium. And in 1941, he was imprisoned by the Gestapo for four months in Berlin on trumped-up charges of espionage.

When he went to see Murrow about working for CBS, Murrow had “just come back from a bombing raid in Berlin, and he was dictating his stuff. He knew who I was, because of my being arrested,” Hottelet recalled in a 2003 interview with the Hartford Courant.

“People ask me now, ‘Did you learn broadcasting from Murrow? Did he give you lessons?’ Nothing. He chose reporters, and we came back and told our stories” over the airwaves.

Hottelet, who was known as an aggressive reporter who refused to be intimidated, was the last of the “Murrow Boys” to be hired to cover the war.

In their 1996 book “The Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism,” Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson concede that deciding who should be included on the list of “Murrow Boys” was not an easy task.

The “Boys” themselves didn’t always agree on who should be included, the authors wrote, and some CBS correspondents hired by Murrow after the war also considered themselves to be “Murrow Boys.”

But the names the two authors finally settled on were William L. Shirer, Cecil Brown, Winston Burdett, Charles Collingwood, William Downs, Thomas Grandin, Larry LeSueur, Eric Sevareid, Howard K. Smith, Hottelet and — despite the “Boys” appellation — Mary Marvin Breckinridge.

Although they were members of a team, the 11 highly competitive CBS war correspondents retained their individuality.

“There was a great feeling about it, a sense of intoxication. It was your job, your voice, your report,” Hottelet told Cloud and Olson. “We all had egos. We all wanted to be the star. The only one who could have managed this team of horses with any success was Ed Murrow.”

After joining CBS, Hottelet made what is believed to be the first recording for broadcast on a warplane while flying on a bombing mission over France in the spring of 1944.

During the predawn hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944, he flew in one of the B-26s that flew over the English Channel to bomb German defenses on the French coast.

After returning to London, he was the only CBS correspondent covering the invasion to broadcast an eyewitness account of the historically massive armada headed toward the beaches of Normandy.

While assigned to the U.S. First Army, Hottelet was the first CBS correspondent to enter Germany, and he delivered the first news report of the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge.

Later, he and others on board a B-17 over Germany were forced to bail out after the bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire.

“It was the Bronze Age, if not the Stone Age of technology,” Hottelet said of his time broadcasting news of the war for CBS in a 2005 interview with the (Bridgeport) Connecticut Post.

But, he said: “We had a fantastically devoted audience back in the United States.”

The son of German immigrants who spoke German at home, Hottelet was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 22, 1917.

With no job prospects after graduating from Brooklyn College in 1937 with a degree in philosophy, he followed his father’s advice to move to Germany and take classes at the university in Berlin, where he could live off the money in a blocked family bank account.

The 20-year-old Hottelet attended several classes at the University of Berlin before dropping out. He had quickly discovered that Nazi propaganda had infiltrated the classrooms. (His philosophy professor wore a Brown Shirt uniform with a Nazi arm band and began class by saluting and shouting, “Heil, Hitler!”)

Looking for work, Hottelet landed a job as a stringer for the Berlin bureau of United Press, where he was soon promoted to full-time correspondent.

“Hottelet was a major pain in the Nazis’ side almost from the beginning,” Cloud and Olson wrote in their book, noting that he once “was arrested after sharply questioning Gestapo agents whom he saw loading Jews into trucks.”

Another time, he was taken into custody and questioned by the Gestapo after phoning in a story about a group of deported Jews he had spent time with on the German-Polish border.

His four months in prison in Berlin on charges of espionage in 1941 ended when he and another imprisoned American journalist were released in exchange for two Germans who had been taken into custody as spies by the United States.

After returning to the United States, Hottelet spent a few months working for United Press’ Washington bureau before he quit to join the Office of War Information.

He spent a year and half working out of the OWI London office before he went to see Murrow about a job.

After retiring from CBS News in 1985, Hottelet spent a year and a half as press advisor to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. He later moderated “America and the World” for National Public Radio, lectured and wrote articles.

Hottelet’s wife, the former Ann Delafield, and their daughter, Antonia Guzman, and their son, Richard Peter Hottelet, predeceased him. He is survived by four grandchildren, Maria Hottelet Foley, Henry Hottelet, Pete Hottelet and Caleb Hottelet, and two great-grandchildren.

McLellan is a former Times staff writer.